The Shotgun Players’ stage is all white, with concave walls. The audience wonders, “What is this? “Where is this?” Soon, with lightning and noise akin to a toilet bowl flushing, a person slides onto the stage, convulsing, as if in pain. Three others soon follow. They are different ages, likely from different eras, with one salient feature in common: they are all black men who have been unjustly killed by whites. In the formidable, intense Kill Move Paradise, we soon realize that the four are in limbo or purgatory — waiting to go to heaven or hell. And we know that they will go to any heaven there may be because their deaths were hellish.
Written by award-winning playwright and actor, James Ijames (White), this one-act, scant 120-minute stellar theatrical experience, presented in association with Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, is blessed with heartfelt, nuanced performances by talented actors who leave one breathless: Tre’vonne Bell (Daz), Edward Ewell (Isa), Lenard Jackson (Grif) and the fantastic 15-year-old Dwayne Clay (Tiny).
Deftly directed by Darryl V. Jones (Aurora Theatre Company’s The Royale and Detroit ’67), Kill Move Paradise effectively presents the men as complete beings, rather than as statistics or stereotypes. We experience with them the pain and recognition of their deaths, yet in their interactions, they can be both angry and playful. When they act out a minstrel show of a family sitcom, complete with a laugh track, their performances contain equal parts resentment and humor. The production is also greatly enhanced by the set by Celeste Martore, lighting by Stephanie Johnson, sound by Elton Bradman, and video design by Theodore J.H. Hulsker.
Author Ijames avoids explicit preaching, but without diluting his somber message. At one point in the production, Isa reads aloud the names of slain African Americans, which he takes from a teletype-like machine at the corner of the stage. During the performance, we occasionally hear the machine typing in a new name. Just as Maya Lin created respect, sorrow and awe by listing the names of deceased veterans on Washington, DC’s Vietnam Memorial, Isa reads the seemingly endless list of names of the dead black men and women. Some are familiar from the headlines; others are not. But the resulting sorrow is inescapable.
The audience has a slightly uncomfortable role in Kill Move Paradise. The four actors see and speak at times to the audience during the performance. They wonder why the audience watching them, the implication being, merely watching, yet doing nothing.
Kill Move Paradise is a moving, emotional, must-see experience. Don’t miss it.
Kill Move Paradise is playing at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley through Aug. 11. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit Shotgun Players online.